March 24, 2023
THE RHYTHM OF MY PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography by Mena Sambiasi
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
Our featured photographer, Mena Sambiasi was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1979. During her childhood and teenage years Mena spent many hours in front of the TV watching movies and TV shows, and dreaming of becoming a movie star. She went to a technical high school and studied advertising. Ironically the only subject Mena ever avoided was photography. In college, she studied Movies and TV Production, enjoying the creative parts of the whole process, but never the technical aspects.
It was on December 31st of 2001 when Mena moved to Málaga in Southern Spain and joined her family who had been living there for a while. Mena found new work as a camera woman in local networks in her new community. After a car crash in 2005 Mena moved to Madrid where she worked in a few music video clips as a camera assistant and worked as a post production supervisor in a production company for five years.
After watching the movie “Revolutionary Road'' (directed by Sam Mendes) Mena decided to quit her job and move back to Buenos Aires to study photography in more depth. Mena made it a weekly routine taking the bus five times a week for a few hours each day. She began taking abstract photographs and also of the people in the bus stops who seemed lost in their own thoughts, reflecting exactly how she felt.
“I was back in my home country but couldn’t help but feel like a stranger. The workshop that changed my life was “Creative Photography”, and that’s where I discovered a constant in my work: reflections.”
Mena came back to southern Spain in 2014 and ran the media department of a Swedish real estate agency taking photos of mansions from 2017-2020. 2020 brought Mena back to Madrid where she currently resides and finds inspiration, but don’t be surprised if Mena spreads her wings once again, finding inspiration and new ways of expressing herself. Mena describes her artistic intentions creating her captivating images
“I define my photography as urban visual poetics. Vibrant colors, lights, compressed textures and geometric shapes are the protagonists. I compose an alternative reality filled with layers, product of a curious look. My photographs are meant to be deconstructed. They are ambiguous and as a journey to discovery, every detail can change the initial impression. A questionable visual depth, a debate between reality and illusion.”
When Mena steps into a room filled with music, sounds that make everyone move and groove with inspirational energy, a powerful connection is made between everyone. This is when Mena relies on her instincts to react to what she not only sees, but also to what she hears. This is the way she approaches and engages her subjects, ultimately finding unique details that translate into sound. She finds a personal connection between her visual translation of the musicians rhythm, as if they were playing just for her.
There is a vibrato of images that we share that are inspired by the freedom Mena experiences creating this work, allowing the relationship to go beyond her vision, and allows the music to influence her decisions, letting the art of the music to be the author of her images. We share Mena’s insightful thoughts on her approach to photography.
“When it comes to my musical photos, I love the fact that I get to react to what I see, and embrace the freedom to play, my creativity pops and I get in kind of a trance.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH MENA SAMBIASI
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Mena, share with our readers, what first drew you to photography, and how did it become the way you describe the world around you?
MENA SAMBIASI: I studied advertising and media production and photography was always present. I later worked as a camera woman but it wasn’t until a trip to Paris in 2005 that I began taking photos for real, among my friends there was a photographer who taught me a few tricks and once I started I couldn’t stop.
I express myself through photography...it’s therapeutic. It makes me feel like a kid, everything is new and exciting whenever I’m holding my camera. To be able to reflect the way I feel in an image just makes me want to do it over and over again, it helps me understand who I am and how I’m feeling with no words.
TPL: How would you describe your photography, and what would you say you are always trying to achieve artistically? Can you describe the creative process involved with the capturing of your photographs?
MS: I would describe it as “detailed” photography, to me each photo is a feeling. Pictures can be from wherever since most of the time it lacks context. The way I see life is also based on details. I'm a very curious person, always trying to learn new things, always wondering how and why.
I would say that what I’m trying to achieve is to express how I feel and to be able to do so with my camera is a wonderful thing.
As for my creative process I always go out with music, and couldn't do it without a soundtrack.
TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now and your preferred focal length? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What is on your wishlist?
MS: I have to say I am not the kind of photographer that was taking photos from an early age, perhaps because I wanted to be an actress so I was much more interested in being in front of a camera rather than behind. First camera I bought was a Nikon F60 with a 28-80mm lens back in 2000. My present camera is a Fuji X-T3 and I mainly use a zoom lens (50-140mm f2.8). It's great to take reflections since I physically cannot get closer, I’m in love with it!
I also own a Samyang AF 12mm f2 which I use for other kinds of photography, once in a while I take it out on the street, most of all when I feel as if I wanna try something different.
I'm quite happy with the equipment I have, but I would love to have a lens that goes from 10mm to 300mm with an aperture of f1.4. I do not think it exists, and if it does...it would cost a fortune...which I'd rather spend traveling.
TPL: When you are photographing, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just 'come to you', or is it both? Please describe your process.
MS: I am not a “project” person. I am the kind of person that likes to be surprised. If not, I feel kind of trapped. I would say I react to what’s in front of me. My photographic reflections are meant to be deconstructed. As for my “direct” shots, those are about loneliness and most of the time they don’t have a clear context. Showing things that at first may seem a little sad, but the way I see it, is that there is always hope and beauty. Most of these ones are full of textures and are about the passing of time (street posters, abandoned objects, deteriorated painting in a wall, etc). Something that’s unusual, perhaps, is why 98% of my images are vertical.
TPL: You engage many different genres of photography, and seem to adapt to each very well. Why have you chosen this path and what has it brought to your work? Tell our readers a little about the different areas of photography you explore.
MS: I love to learn new things and to leave my comfort zone. I have taken architectural photographs. Given that I worked in a real estate agency for three years, I had a blast. I really enjoyed it. A few months ago I had the chance to take photos in a discotheque and had so much fun taking them. I enjoyed taking the photos that were without the flash, they were very theatrical. I have to say that I’m more of a “still objects" person rather than a people person, when it comes to photography. I’ve never felt comfortable telling people how to act in front of a camera since I hate being in front of a camera.
After that came the concert photographs. I felt so lucky to have been given the chance to do so. It’s so cool that you get to work and have fun at the same time.
Recently I did a shooting for a company, for an ad agency, where I had to direct actors. Funny enough it was only hard for the first five photos, afterwards I was having a great time doing something I thought I could never do. Client was very happy, I was told that they’ve never seen photos like mine before and I think it’s because street photography taught me how to see in a different way. I call it the hunter’s way where the person doesn’t pose, instead they just are who they are and I react to them, instead of the opposite way.
TPL: Your concert series are vibrant, engaging all the senses. They take the viewer by the hand and invite them to share the music that fills your ears. Tell us how you approach your subject, and how you translate what you see, and hear.
MS: My concert series are also very detailed images, most of them lack context and capture the movement, expression and most importantly, I feel as if they capture the musician enjoying their work. Perspective is very important, as is the lighting from the venue. In this series, I use the long lens and also the 12mm. Once again, with these images I feel like a hunter. I react to them, which is something that I enjoy more than when they are posing for you, or even looking at you. I love the adrenaline of not knowing what’s next.
I express myself through photography...it’s therapeutic. It makes me feel like a kid, everything is new and exciting whenever I’m holding my camera.
TPL: You have focused over the past year on marketing your photography. What are some of the challenges you faced, and how you overcame them. What were the successes, what advice would share? Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
MS: Last year I began working with two online platforms, so far so good. A few years ago I went to a lot of galleries and presented them my cool and unusual portfolio, which they loved but I will always remember what one of them told me: “sorry, we only work with renowned photographers”. And, still today, I am wondering how I could be renowned if you don’t want to get to know me? I did a bunch of exhibitions. I am lucky enough to sell my work every so often. But I am still trying to understand how this world works. It is an exhausting path to choose and at the same time an amazing one to be on. I am currently working with a photographer friend on a joint project which if we’re lucky will become a book and have an exhibition.
TPL: If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why?
MS: I would choose Saul Leiter. When I saw his work in a creative photography workshop I took I could not believe how beautiful his work was, his sensitivity, his colors, perspective, textures. And I think his images are so breathtaking because of his background in painting and because he was not trying to impress no one, he just took photos for himself.
TPL: What have been some of your most favorite places you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?
MS: In the cities I find my elements of expression, I am attracted to details that reflect a whole. I am deeply in love with San Francisco and New York. Also Madrid where I currently live. I went to Venice a few years ago and it was absolutely beautiful. I would say I am drawn to places that are modern and at the same time have certain areas where you can see that time has passed by, others would call it decadence I call it beauty.